Offer Your Body As a Living Sacrifice
First Sunday after the Epiphany
January 7, 2018
Looking at people on the outside you can’t necessarily tell who is a Christian and who is not. Both may do good things and both may not. But while many non-Christians think of themselves as good and decent people, we as Christians believe what God in His Word says of every person, that we are sinful and under God’s condemnation. This is why we prayed of our Lord in the Collect to grant us to both perceive and know what things we ought to do and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfill the same.
Our sinfulness is shown in thinking of ourselves that we know what things we ought to do and that we are able to do them. Our Lord pulls no punches—we are deep in sin and do not do what God demands, nor do we even know. The difference between us and non-Christians is that we despair of our own knowledge and ability and trust that our Lord gives us what we need.
Unlike the world and our own sinful nature we do not rest in satisfaction that we do our best. We rest in being forgiven of our failure and our sin. We don’t look to ourselves, we look to Christ. What we are shown in Christ is whole and humble service to God the Father. We see sacrifice that gives of Himself completely.
At Christmas we see Christ in the care of His parents. As an infant He is unable to take care of Himself. He has chosen to be a servant and so exhibits humility that entrusts oneself to others. In the Gospel reading we see Jesus no longer an infant but still growing under the care of His parents. Even so, He is beginning to show how His Heavenly Father is who He ultimately is beholden to.
When His parents bring Him to Jerusalem for the yearly Passover Feast He begins to show how this feast commanded by God is ultimately fulfilled in Himself. Joseph and Mary were faithful in observing what God commanded. But they still were unaware that their twelve year old Son would keep the command of God perfectly and completely. They did not understand that the forgiveness they received from God came about through His only Son, the very twelve year old child they were raising.
So when they had competed the observance of the Passover they headed back home, not realizing that Jesus stayed behind. When they couldn’t find Him in the caravan they were distraught and went back to Jerusalem to search for Him. They finally found Him in the temple. The temple was the place where the Passover lambs were sacrificed. The annual observance recalled the lamb each family would sacrifice and then take the blood, painting it on the door frame so that the angel of death would pass over that house, sparing them from the death of their firstborn son from death. The striking down of the firstborn son was the tenth and final plague of God against Pharaoh and the Egyptians in refusing to let God’s people leave Egypt. The lamb that was sacrificed spared the life of the firstborn son.
In going to the temple at age twelve Jesus was showing that He must be in His Father’s House. He must eventually return to the temple and put an end to the sacrificing of all the lambs. He must Himself give Himself over to be sacrificed so that our lives would be spared. When He was in the temple at this moment at age twelve everyone was amazed at His understanding. When His parents finally found Him they were astonished at this sight. Just think if you found your twelve year old child holding his own with the religious teachers. Joseph and Mary had been worried sick about losing Jesus and now they were trying to comprehend their Son at the center of attention in the temple.
Jesus knew what everyone else didn’t. He knew who He was and knew why He was there. He was living as the Son of His Father. He was entrusting Himself to His Father’s will, which meant He would return to the temple not to talk about the Word of God but to fulfill it as the Lamb of God, as the sacrifice for the sin of the world.
And what this meant also was leaving the temple for now and returning with His parents back home and being obedient them. Being the Son of His Heavenly Father meant being an obedient Son of His earthly father and mother. He would grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and people. He would live as you and I are called to live, only with perfect humility and contentment that whatever His Father desired of Him He would desire as well.
You and I are unable to live this way. We balk at God’s holy and eternal will. When things don’t go our way we ask God to align His plans with ours. We see in Jesus who we are meant to be. But rather than call upon us to be like Him God calls upon us to look to Him as the fulfillment of His will and the reason He forgives us. He lived a sacrificial life culminating in the once for all sacrifice on the cross. Only Jesus could and has made this sacrifice so that you have life eternally and life here on earth free from the condemnation of hell. There is nothing for you to do to conquer your sin and guilt. Christ has done that.
It’s all the more a blessing then the life you now have in Christ. Even though you cannot make a sacrifice for your sin you in a sacrificial way. Paul says in the Epistle reading to offer up your body as a living sacrifice. This is what Jesus did in His life, being about the things of His Father, being obedient to His parents, preaching and healing in His ministry. There was nothing lacking in His life of sacrifice. He wholly offered Himself to His Father in ministering to people.
And if it was amazing how Jesus did such remarkable things, it’s equally amazing that in exhorting you to offer up yourself as a living sacrifice God is not encouraging you to be like His Son or to try your best. He is exhorting you simply to be who you are. Since Christ has made the holy sacrifice you are holy. Because you were Baptized into the sacrifice of His death and raised to the glory of His resurrection you are new and free and forgiven. You are no longer beholden to you short-sighted notions of how things should go for yourself in life but rather have life in Christ!
You are a living sacrifice. As Jesus, true and eternal god, became a man and used His body to love and serve others, you, eternally forgiven and living, offer up your body as a living sacrifice, loving and serving others. Being in your Father’s House. Humbly obeying those God has placed in authority over you. Rejoicing in your Father’s will even when it is contrary to your own.
If you were to ask Jesus if it were easy for Him to live this way He would have said no. Offering yourself in sacrifice is by nature not easy. Offering yourself as a living sacrifice is hard. You forgive others when you want to retaliate. You give up your time when you want it for yourself. You use you abilities to help others when instead you could be making things better for yourself. You give a portion of your hard-earned money off the top to God instead of what is left over. You spend each Sunday morning here in your Father’s House when it would be more pleasant to sleep in or use the limited time you have to get things done or enjoy activities you can never quite fit in.
Jesus knew it was hard. You know it’s hard. But there is greater joy in sacrifice than in your own notions of what will bring you joy. Living for yourself is living in your sin. Offering up yourself as a living sacrifice is repentant living and knowing peace that surpasses all understanding. Knowing Christ has given you His life you live in eternal peace and confidence that your Father in heaven has in mind only what is good for you. If He gives you His Son again and again in bread and wine how will He not also bless you abundantly as you live your life in sacrifice? Because you eat the very body of Christ which He offers in sacrifice for you you are forgiven and are holy and pure. When you drink the holy blood of Christ which He poured out for you on the cross you are cleansed and renewed, able to live as a little Christ to others. This is why He has come to you in your Baptism and continues to come to you in His Supper, so that you are in Him and live in Him. Amen.
Rev. Paul L. Willweber
Lutheran Service Book Lectionary: One-Year, Gospel
Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, San Diego, California